Monday, November 2, 2009

The Day of the Dead

San Sebastian

Hummingbird near the Tomebamba

Cuencan Flag

We faded quickly last night. It almost took too much energy to eat. I try to fall asleep as quickly as I can so I need not be conscious of the inadequacies of our hotel room. Unfortunately we are in a room just off the main reception area where every time a guest wants to enter, they ring a very loud doorbell and sometimes twice or three times to wake up the receptionist, so the night is interrupted until 5 or 6 in the morning (guests like to start partying at midnight here and go until morning) and then early risers start their breakfast by 7…needless to say, our hotel has not been the best part of our trip. However, late this evening when I returned home from the festivities I almost tripped over a woman on the sidewalk wrapped in a blanket and asleep amidst the loud fireworks. She looked my age but more weathered and cold. That gave me a moment of perspective.

I was surprised at how refreshed I felt this morning despite the rough night. It was 'La Dia de Los Muertes' (the day of the dead) and the first thing to do after breakfast was to find a mass, which was happening in every church in town. We happened to have breakfast right next to the New Cathedral. I was thankful that the Catholic mass is the same all over the world, so it is easy to know when to sit, when to stand, when to say the Lord's prayer and when to kneel, and when to shake that hands of those around you. I felt entirely comfortable despite understanding very little of it. I expected there to be differences because it was the day to celebrate ones' deceased loved ones, but it felt like a usual mass. Except that the cantor strummed the guitar and sounded Andean, but that made sense to me. I wanted to find a cemetery and to see more of the celebration. Amparo had told me that her family goes to mass at 8 in the morning and then to the cemetery to honour their father, who had died about ten years ago. The family goes to his grave and clean it and paint his name more clearly, and leave flowers for him. Once home, the family prepares a special meal, which includes a soup with 'harina de aves' with 'churros' or 'caracoles' ( 'una soap especial' for 'el dia de los muertes'). Everything else is fried, with rice, fried bread, fried plantains, fried meat, and fried eggs. Colada morada (the special drink that is made for this occasion) is made with harina de maize negro, fruits, agua con te de canela and calvo de alor and anise, plantas verdes , hierba luisa, manzanilla, y planta rojo ( this is all mixed and sits for a day or two ahead of time), added to jugo de mora (blackberries) and murtillo (blueberries), sugar and panela moreno (brown cane sugar), pineapples, babaco, and frutillas and manzana (Amparo does not like to add the manzana). The whole combination is cooked and served hot with guaguas de pan. The family eats and converses and spends the day together. The loss of their father still brings tears to her eyes.

Bienal Exhibit

There are dozens of varieties of guaguas de pan. I tried every kind at my favorite bakery in Quito (Cyrano's) , which included those filled with mora, guayaba, manjar de leche and nutella. They sold the 'colada morada' as well, but I tried Isabel's version instead. She served it cold, but Amparo insisted that it be served hot, which tastes best. I have been looking in each of the bakeries here in Cuenca, and the guaguas are unique in each store. I could not taste every one!

Lovely Balconies

Church Towers

After mass at the Catedral Nuevo, we visited the old cathedral which is now a museum. It is neoclassical in style and has been expanded and renovated several times. It is almost entirely made of wood painted to look like marble and each of the unique chapels is donated by a different influential family. The statues are made of wood or wood and painted cloth and are meant to be paraded through the town on festival days. Crucified Christ is excessively bloody and the explanation of that is that the imposition of Catholicism on the local population was violent and oppressive and the indigenous artists depicted the suffering of Christ as a reflection of their own suffering at the hands of the Spanish and the church. Rather amazing that the church has been so successful in its efforts at conversion. I must learn more about the statues of Christ with his heart exposed. Our guide explained that the President Garcia Moreno (who was assassinated in front of the Presidential palace in Quito) was very religious and consecrated all Ecuador to Christ and his heart. I am not sure I understood him correctly.

Calle Larga

Painted to Look Like Marble

Every Street Has Treasures

Eric had a grant review to download at an internet cafe, and Maya wanted to play online, so I wandered through Cuenca. There is a huge art festival (Bienal de Cuenca) happening at various venues throughout the city with participants from throughout the world. Exhibits are everywhere. I wandered into a beautiful colonial building housing mannequins in designs of several Ecuadorian artists. I remembered that at the Banco Central we had seen some video&performance art presentations, as well as a video presentation of a man praying in the snow in Usbekistan at the convent museum. I found my way to the Modern Art Museum today to find all sorts of interesting modern art, from paintings which I could relate to, to video installations I could not understand, and massive collections of stuff which an Ecuadorian artist filled a room with and it took far too much time to go through all the items and make sense of them all. Later when I met Maya and Eric, we found another interesting installation, which was a huge enterprise wherein a group of artists dug up an area and created what looked like an archeological dig with huge toys half excavated. The artists were trying to show that children are no longer playing with yo-yos and jacks and tops and hopscotch, instead they are using videogames and handheld electronic devices and the toys of the past are buried away. It was a fun exhibit.

I found my way into a hat factory and decided that I must have a Panama hat. The process of hat making is far more complicated than one can imagine, and the amount of work that is required is rather astonishing. Later both Maya and I bought our Panama hats, but bought inexpensive ones. I remember that the last time I was in Cuenca with Eric's students one of them spent over a hundred dollars (they go up to throusands of dollars!) for a hat and was devastated when it got wet and disfigured. Apparently you can iron them back into shape, but the hat looked so sad and misshapen, it was hard to imagine that it could ever go back to the way it was.

Working at the Hat Factory

Beautiful Panama Hats

I met Eric and Maya at the Cafe Austro for a weinerschnitzel and strudel. Neither were quite right, but generally the food here in Cuenca has been delicious. The rest of the day was a shopping expedition, through the 'Casa de la Mujer' (artesanial market) and back to the craft fair at 'El Barranco'. Eric wanted his 'Salasaca' poncho, which the woman at the Salasaca booth sent for from home. It arrived overnight from near Ambato. It is very expensive because it is made by hand and takes much time and effort to do. Eric has wanted one forever, but balked at the price .The Salasaca Indians are originally from Bolivia and were moved to the area around Ambato by the Incans and were not much liked by their neighbors when they mourned the death of Atahualpa. They still wear their black ponchos in mourning for their loss.

Street Corner

I wanted to see more ruins along the Calle Larga but we visited the Aboriginal Museum instead. I was amazed at the collection, white was a private one, later donated to the museum and catalogued. An extraordinarily vast array of neolithic, Valdivian, Chorrera. Machalalla, JamaCoaque, Tolita, Bahia, Canari, and Incan artifacts, well organized and well presented except that there was too much to see therefore difficult to absorb. The museum shop was over stuffed as well, but had lovely antique textiles I wanted to purchase, but were beyond my means. Not necessary but it would be wonderful to have them!

Tonight was a day before Cuencan Independence Day, so it was time to celebrate. There were several stages set up for 'Bandas de Pueblo' and 'Juegos Pirotechnico'. Ecuadorians love their music and their fireworks. 'Castillos' several metres high were carefully constructed, designed to progressively set off bigger and bigger fireworks. I stayed in the main square, where acrobatics and dancing and music were presented, often several events going on at once. Instead of a 'castillo', the aerial dancer writhed in the midst of fireworks going off in all directions. The dancers too were framed by fireworks and sparklers and smoke and noise. The crowd would squeeze closer and closer to the stage until the fireworks suddenly set off and everyone would scatter and try to avoid injury. The fireworks became more and more spectacular as the evening progressed. I am wondering what is in store for us tomorrow!

Neighbourhood Games


Acrobats and Fireworks

Maya Playing Violin

1 comment:

  1. Keep writing...I've been playing catch up on your blog. So glad Maya is adjusting to her school and making friends. She will do fine at her school, she just needs more time to adjust and she needs to go at her own pace. Don't push her too hard. Let her blossom on her own.

    I've been very busy traveling for EDN Maryland. In the past few months I've been to Wisconsin, Utah, Minnesota, NC, and Colorado, visiting e/d treatment centers. On Thursday I fly to Maimi for 3 days. I don't have to pay for anything & I'm enjoying getting away from Baltimore.

    Take Care,